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Health officials urging H1N1 vaccination

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

State health officials are encouraging all residents to consider getting vaccinated against the novel Type-A H1N1 influenza virus.

H1N1 infection activity has been on an upward swing throughout the state this spring, according to Hayla Hall, risk communicator for District 4 Health Services, which includes Henry County. Hall said the virus has been associated with three deaths in Henry County alone, so far in 2010. The most recent death, a 51-year-old, occurred last week.

The Southeast region, compared to other parts of the country, has a smaller percentage of residents who have been vaccinated, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report revealed that during the period between October 2009 and January 2010, Georgia had the least H1N1 vaccination coverage among children ages six months to 17 years.

The report noted that Georgia's rate of coverage for children during that window of time was 21.3 percent, compared to a nationwide median of 36.8 percent, and that only 15.3 percent of Georgia adults were reportedly covered by the H1N1 vaccine, compared to a 20.1 percent median.

Additionally, Georgia continues to be listed on the CDC's Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report as one of a handful of states with regional influenza activity. Last week's list included Alabama and South Carolina, both states having low rates of vaccination coverage among adults but higher coverage rates among children.

"The disease rates among children are high, but our death rates among adults -- especially adults with underlying health conditions -- are worrisome," said Hall. "It is very important for people who are at high risk to get vaccinated."

Hall said spring break is an opportune time for parents to have their children vaccinated against H1N1, and get the vaccination for themselves.

Health officials saw near-large scale H1N1 infections last spring and fall, and "we're starting to see it coming back," Hall said.

She said officials have continued to monitor the apparent rise in infections lately. She noted that the Georgia Department of Community Health recently reported 16 hospitalizations and one death associated with H1N1, for the week March 21-27.

The CDC recommends people practice good personal hygiene to stave off contracting H1N1, by washing their hands with soap and water, covering their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, and avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Residents can also find what facilities have the H1N1 vaccine available by using the Georgia Division of Public Health's online H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Provider Locator, at http://health.state.ga.us/h1n1flu.